Smith started the final five games of the Big Ten slate last season and compiled a 4-1 record. That stretch was enough to convince him that the Big Ten is the cream of the college football crop.
"The Big Ten, to me, is probably the toughest conference to play football in," Smith said. "I'm kind of biased in saying that because I play in the conference, but the Big Ten is tough. It's physical, all the way around. Not to say that we don't have speed. We have speed. But, teams that we play, they bring it every week."
Smith feels that he is ready to lead the Buckeyes into the eight-game Big Ten gauntlet.
"Preparation starts in the winter and all the way through the summer and things like that," he said. "Spring, everything. If I try to wait until now to get myself ready for the Big Ten, it's too late. The preparation that we started doing in the winter, through the spring and summer, gears us for this kind of competition."
In last week's 27-6 win over San Diego State, the offense was so ineffective that head coach Jim Tressel decided not to name an offensive player of the week, or an offensive lineman of the week.
Smith was asked if it felt more like a loss than a victory since the offense played so poorly.
"No, because you take something away from the defense if you say that," he said. "Obviously there was not a player worthy of the two awards, but we fought valiantly on the field. We just got to work harder this week."
But Smith has put the SDSU game behind him. The only thing he's thinking about is Iowa, a team that crushed Ohio State 33-7 last year in Iowa City.
"The loss we had last year to Iowa is still in the back of everybody's mind," Smith said. "Just getting a win in the Big Ten this week is what we're thinking about."
Last year, Justin Zwick was injured during the Iowa game, opening the door for Smith. Smith was asked what he remembers about that game.
"It was cold," he said. "That game was unreasonably cold. Being that we lost (made it seem colder)."
The Hawkeyes had a great defense last year, but lost all four of their starting defensive linemen. This year, they are still excellent at linebacker and solid in the secondary, but the defensive line is the one glaring weakness.
But Smith knows Iowa will bring a quality defense to town. A basic, hard-nosed defense.
"Iowa is a team that is going to come out and just play you with the things that they're going to do," Smith said. "They're not going to trick you. They're not going to sub very much. They're going to line up and play assignment football and dare you to beat them. So therefore, you've got to be tough. Iowa is a tough team; a great team. It's going to be a great battle and we've got to go out there and be just as tough, or tougher."
Ohio State's offense was expected to be explosive this season, much like it was the final two games of the 2004 season. But the Buckeyes have sputtered along offensively through three games.
"What I think is probably missing is just continuity," Smith said. "I was absent for a while, so that's one big reason. But now everything is back and there's no excuses. We'll put it together now and we'll get back on the tilt that we were last year and get things rolling."
Smith then engaged in a bit of a verbal spat with a reporter, who asked him if OSU's coaches have given him any reason to believe he should be looking over his shoulder.
"As far as what?" Smith asked.
The reporter responded: "Just your job, that (Jim Tressel) might sub. Have they given you any reason to think that might happen?
"No," Smith scowled.
Do you worry about it at all?
"No," Smith said. "What your name? That's a terrible question. I'm not thinking about that at all."
Another reporter then chimed in: "You don't have any concerns that you could get a quick hook if things don't go well?"
"That's something that I'm not thinking of," Smith replied. "Question wise, I don't think that's a good question. I don't think that's a smart question, simply because we're facing Iowa and that's the only emphasis, that's the only thing we need to worry about now. If there's any questions, I think they should go towards the team. How's the team look? How is Iowa? How are we preparing for Iowa?"
A reporter reminded Smith that the quarterback situation is important and that's why the media brings it up.
"I'm not thinking about that," Smith said. "You might be thinking about it, but I'm not thinking about it as a quarterback."
The conversation then turned towards sophomore wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. Smith is like a big brother to Ginn and was asked if he's had any "heart-to-heart" discussions with Ginn, trying to raise his spirits.
"He's not down in any way," Smith said. "I don't understand why everybody thinks he's down, but he's not down. Ted has been a team player since the day he stepped foot on campus. So, there's no need for a heart-to-heart. He's not down in any way.
"Ted is the type of player where once he's in the game and gets a couple touches, he can do what he needs to do. You know, take the ball the distance; the whole way around. All we need to do is get the ball in his hands."
There has been a lot of discussion that OSU needs to do a better job of getting the ball in its playmakers' hands. But Tressel has warned that the most important thing on passing plays is finding the open receiver.
"That just goes with decision-making," Smith said. "Take what they give you. The things that open up are the things that you want to take advantage of."
One thing you won't see much of from Smith is audibles at the line of scrimmage. He says he somewhat has freedom to call audibles, but we have yet to see it.
"We have certain plays where we can audible in and audible out, but we haven't been in a situation where we need to," Smith said. "There hasn't been a front that they come in or they show us that we need to audible out of something to get in something else."
One criticism of Smith is that he does not seem to go through his progressions. He looks for his primary receiver – which is usually a short or intermediate route – and if he's not open, Smith usually looks to run. That might be one reason why there has not been more deep passes so far this season.
"I just try and execute the game plan that we have to the best of my abilities," Smith said. "I'm sure if you talk to any quarterback around – unless it's a design play call to go deep first – it goes in a progression of short, mid-range, to deep. That's the way routes usually are."
So far this season, Smith is 19 of 37 passing (51.4) for 227 yards. He has thrown one touchdown and one interception.
Yes, he is still knocking some rust off. But he will likely get better with more experience.
"I don't feel totally comfortable, but comfortable enough," Smith said. "Getting back to top form is hard. A lot of people try to rush things, but it's not that easy at all. The teams that we play, they game plan all year, as do we. So, it's pretty tough in the Big Ten and college football period."
Smith always goes out of his way to praise OSU's offensive line, especially senior center Nick Mangold.
"Nick is a guy who is pretty much the anchor of the whole football team," Smith said. "One of the reasons we chose him to be captain, he's been the backbone of the offensive line for three years, making good decisions on and off the field. He's an all-around good guy."
In addition to being an All-American candidate, Mangold is one of the most laid back players on the team.
"Never seen him uptight. Never seen him uptight," Smith said. "Seen him fired up, but not where it's bothering him enough to where he can't do his thing, be in his game plan. He's a great guy."
As for OSU's offense as a whole, there is nowhere to go but up. Statistically, the Buckeyes have one of the worst offenses in the country, despite all their talent.
"We're an offense on the rise," Smith said. "An offense on the verge of doing some good things. We're not quite there yet. We're not where we want to be, but we're on the rise. We're doing some good things. We're moving the ball. We're just trying to move up step by step."
Smith was asked if moving to a spread offense has negatively affected OSU's running game.
No, I don't think so," he said. "Because at the same time, we do have plays in the playbook where we can just line ‘em up and get three yards and a cloud of dust. We're just trying to spread things out and use our playmakers the best we can."
As his weekly press luncheon, Tressel said that offensive line coach Jim Bollman has been in his ear telling him that it's OK to throw the ball sometimes on third-and-two.
"More power to Coach Bollman for that one," Smith said.
But will Tressel take Bollman's advice?
"Him and Bolls, they've been together for a while," Smith said. "I'm pretty sure he values his opinion."